Sunday, August 13, 2017

Review: "The Dark Tower" has forgotten the face of its father

The Dark Tower Review

Forget what you've seen from this film's advertising. Matthew McConaughey is not the villain of "The Dark Tower." Sony Pictures is the villain of "The Dark Tower." They did what The Man In Black couldn't do across seven books. They brought the Dark Tower down, The Crimson King is ruling the chaos.

Imagine that Peter Jackson didn't make "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy in 2001, and that he was gearing up to make the trilogy this year. Imagine Peter Jackson not receiving the creative freedom or the budget he received in the real world, tension's rise between studio and director. And after almost a decade of false-starts, Peter Jackson leaves the project and an untested novice director takes his place. Instead of carefully adapting each book in J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy, New Line wants this newbie director to make one movie due to budget concerns. Samwise, Merry, Pippin, Gandalf, Theoden, Eomer, Arywin, Gimli, Legolas, Boromir, and other key characters are omitted from the script. Frodo moves from lead character to supporting character and "The Lord of the Rings," just one movie, is put into production. The film follows Frodo finding The Ring of Power, then hoping on the back of an Eagle with Aragorn, the real lead of the movie, and together, they fly to Mordor to destroy the ring. They make a couple stops so Aragorn can fight some Nazgul, trolls and orcs. But Frodo and Aragorn eventually make it to Mount Doom, Frodo drops the ring in the volcano and they fly off into the sunset. The film is, after all, a mere hour and a half.

Would that be the adaptation Tolkien and audiences at large deserved? Well, that's kinda what happened with "The Dark Tower." Written by Stephen King, "The Dark Tower" was seven novels epic about a lone drifter trying to stop a dark lord from getting to The Dark Tower, a huge castle-like fortress that holds the universe together. Much like Middle-Earth, Narnia, and Westeros, King's Mid-World is a textured, detailed fantasy world. The Gunslinger aka Roland Deschain is mysteriously drawn to the tower, and he doesn't want someone as dangerous as The Man In Black to reach it. Sure, there is more to it than that, but I don't want to ruin the magic of this series for you. Many have called this series Stephen King's magnum opus, a strange yet sophisticated blend of horror, fantasy, science fiction and even Western into one crazy cool story that you won't be able to shake. 

I wish I could say the same about the movie adaptation, but I can't. "The Dark Tower" could have been on the same wavelength as "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, or the Narnia movies, or HBO's "Game of Thrones" and even the "Harry Potter" movies. We have so many good examples of great fantasy out there that Sony could have used any of those as a template of adaptation. But they didn't. Every decision made here is completely safe. 

Big mistake number one is definitely Roland Deschain (Idris Elba). I don't have a problem Idris Elba playing him, I never gave into the controversy of a white character in a book becoming black in the movie. In fact, now that I've seen the movie, Elba did a wonderful job playing Roland. The problem I have is that "The Dark Tower" isn't his story. It's Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) story, and that feels wrong from the start. The movie spends pretty much the first act focusing on Chambers, his visions of Roland, his visions of Walter (McConaughey) the dark figure trying to bring about the end of the world. We see Jake go to shrinks, we watch him have a troubled time at school, we watch him disapprove of his mother's (Katheryn Winnick) new boyfriend. While we watch this, I was thinking "where the hell is Roland" this whole time. Imagine a "Harry Potter" movie adaptation that decided to focus on Ginny Weasley. What the hell kind of adaptation would that be?

One of Jake's visions leads him to a house, which leads him to Mid-World, the world where Roland leaves and where the dark tower exists. Jake and Roland finally hook up, and unfortunately, Roland is a supporting character in his own story. The movie is all about Jake. We eventually that Walter is drawn to Jake's psychic abilities. His "shine" as he calls it. Oh yes, that's a big Stephen King reference, a reference the movie goes out of its way to mention 10,000 times. Jake's psychic powers will bring the dark tower down, which will lead a bunch of CGI spectacles (monsters) to Earth to destroy the world. Seven books to draw material from, and "The Dark Tower" is just another Chosen One story. Mixed with an ordinary revenge movie I might add, all they did with Roland's character was turn him into a man seeking revenge (How clever!) for Walter killing his father.

I know this review may say otherwise, but I am usually not a stickler when it comes to Hollywood adaptations, because as long as a film crew can capture the essence of the book or comic in question, I can roll with any changes. The entire essence of King's books have been omitted. Sony took some names and ideas and a couple locations from the book and slapped them on a lame Chosen One fable/ revenge thriller that feels powerfully ordinary. And can tell me all you want that this was intended to be a sequel to King's books. Its not though. I know Sony said so, but its not. Besides some quick lip service and some close-ups of The Horn of Eld, there is no indication that this is any sort of sequel. There is little to no information given on Roland or Walter's history, no mythology of Mid-World given, and no understanding of Roland's journey up to this point. The references to King's other work in "The Dark Tower" novels not only showed that all of King's work was connected, it paralleled and affected the novels at large. The references to King's other work in the movie add up to nothing more than a handful of tongue-in-cheek, in-jokes. The "sequel" talk was just Sony giving its writers a creative license to do whatever they wanted with the material, and what they chose to do was boring.

I feel bad, because Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey are doing everything they can to make this count. McConaughey is fine as Walter, but the script lets him down in a big way. They don't give him any good lines or any good moments in the movie, and the climax between him and Roland is so laughably bad, and it might just be the stupidest climax to any movie you'll see this summer. I don't know who that guy was McConaughey was playing, but it wasn't The Man In Black. I don't know what those "Island of Dr. Moreau" mutants were, but they weren't the villainous Taheen. Most of all, if they HAD to turn this into a Jake Chambers story, at least get a kid who can actually act.

Sony had a mighty opportunity and they righteously squandered it. We missed out on another great fantasy world. I think they may have messed up so bad that this might be our only trip to Mid-World, and its going to take something special several decades from now to get this bad taste out of our mouth. That's just sad all around. "The Dark Tower" doesn't work, dear sweet God it doesn't work.


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